Thursday, 12 April 2012

a day in the life

I saw the news today, oh boy!
Four thousand graves in Fanling countryside
I didn’t count them all
But I know how many ghosts it takes
To hear a koel’s call.
And this may turn you on….

with apologies to John Lennon.
Yesterday was a typical day: routine errands in the morning, and an afternoon spent working on rehabilitation. I’ve been cycling along the riverbank for the past three weeks, but last week, looking for slightly hilly terrain, I discovered a quiet road that meandered up and down the spurs and hollows at the base of the ridge that overlooks the river. I’d known about the road, but I’d assumed that it was a dead end, leading only to a small village. However, it turned out that an access road to the scores of graves on the hillside below the ridge led from the other side of the village. This is the very hillside that was consumed by a carelessly started conflagration during Ching Ming.

First, the errands. Nothing to write about here, except that on the way home I suddenly noticed a partial sunbow overhead. This relatively uncommon phenomenon is caused by ice crystals in the stratosphere diffracting the sun’s rays, in contrast to a rainbow, which is caused by refraction of those same rays. Refraction occurs when light passes from one medium into another with a different refractive index and can be described as a bending of light. Diffraction, by contrast, is where light is scattered; this scattered light forms a halo around the primary light source.

A partial sunbow. This is a genuine picture and not mere glare caused by pointing the camera at the sun.

My afternoon bike ride began in similarly auspicious circumstances. I’d gone less than half a mile before I noticed a white-throated kingfisher perched on the railings alongside the river. Kingfishers are not rare—there are six species in Hong Kong—but they are not a common sight either. It took off as I stopped to take a closer look, and as it skimmed low over the river I could have been forgiven for thinking that it was scattering sand in a thin arc beneath its flight path. Actually, the disturbance in the water would have been fish close to the surface executing crash dives to avoid attracting the predator’s attention as it swooped overhead.

Two uncommon sights in one day! I wondered if there would be opportunity for a third. I turned off the road along the riverbank towards the village of Wah San Tsuen. After leaving the village, the road passes through an area of thick woodland before emerging onto open hillside and an area where there are many graves. I stopped to photograph the damage wreaked by last week’s hill fire.

This hillside almost certainly burns every few years, because there is little except low scrub, elephant grass…and graves.

I continued on my way until it was possible to double back along the riverbank to my starting point. Naturally, one circuit is not sufficient, and it was not long before I was again passing through the thickly wooded area. I remembered that someone had asked me whether I had any recordings of cicadas, and I couldn’t help but notice the intense screeching all around. Very little unwanted background, I thought, so this should be a good place to make a recording. However, as I drew to a halt, I suddenly became aware of an unfamiliar song, and I almost fell off my bike in my haste to dismount and get the recorder out. I have no idea of the identity of the singer (there were two, presumably of the same species), and I’m posting the songs here in the hope that someone can identify them. Cicadas can be heard rasping in the background.

Two duets by the same two unknown songbirds (click to play):

I’ve previously enthused about magpie robins, which are common where I live and are the pop singers of the avian world, but these birds, which were recorded in undisturbed woodland, are opera singers by comparison. Naturally, I went round for a third circuit, but I heard nothing else. However, I will be back.

Just another day in Fanling.


  1. It sounds like you had quite a day! Thanks for sharing it with us. I hope you find out what kind of bird that it. It sounds so beautiful!

    1. Just another day in Fanling. Thanks for stopping by Janene.

  2. i'd never heard of a sunbow before; very cool phenomenon. good luck with identifying the birds; their songs are lovely.

    1. I like to understand the natural phenomena I see Kris, and the sunbow is a typical example of that.

  3. I'm hearing a Green Finch -

    1. Seems unlikely Jeunelle. Green singing finches are native to sub-Saharan Africa. I know they are popular cagebirds, and one could have been an escapee from someone's cage, but there are two individuals singing here. At the moment, I’m leaning towards its being a member of the thrush family (15 species in Hong Kong).

    2. Of course it's not a finch, I just like finches.
      It's a hermit thrush, I insist. LOL

    3. A vagrant from North America? Now you really are having me on.

    4. I'm always up for game.
      When you find out which species it is, indulge me.

  4. You live in a beautiful part of the world bird songs or not - some of us have experienced it too! - keep writing about HK and its natural surrounds so we can all enjoy it from afar - the different theories of life we can handle ourselves!

  5. as long as we do not destroy nature, nature will love us even with the sound fetchingly


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